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Saturday 14 December 2014

Summer has officially started but there is still not a great deal of evidence for it. The rain has finally eased off although Bronte’s golf holes are still full of water and the ground squelches as you walk down to the creek from the house. We’ve had one or two warm days but it’s stayed mercifully cool so far. I’ve booked up for our hay to be cut & baled, but suspect it will be mid-January before they can even get on the land without churning it up. As usual I expect they will come just as we go back to work, so we have to fit in the hay carting around work hours.

This period started with the Huon Show. Noriko (Nori) our first ever Japanese WWOOFer, came with us and seemed to enjoy herself. I found it much less enjoyable this year, with too many noisy rides and sideshows and less about agriculture and farm animals. It was also almost unbearably busy. Bronte and Luke queued for the bumper cars and took forever to get their turn. I did enjoy the ferris wheel, which is very stately and prim compared to other rides which twirled their shrieking passengers upside down. There were great views from the top of the wheel over the Huon Valley.

I sussed out the opposition in the crafts area. Someone from Blackmans Bay had done some superb crocheting, which has renewed my determination to produce some articles for sale on Etsy. I’m currently sewing in the ends on the multifarious squares I’ve been making over past weeks. Given that I’ve used lots of different colours & changed colour frequently, this job is also going to take weeks.

On the farm we’ve have 4 deaths, but considerably more births. We’ve hatched our 3rd lot of eggs and now have a total of 20 young turkeys and 25 young chickens. Two turkeys from the latest batch died within a few days of hatching. One was like the runt of the batch, a tiny little yellow fluff ball. I kept it indoors in the incubator and fed it special food but it just turned up its toes one night. The six eldest turkeys are outside in the old covered peacock run. We took them down there in sacks and tipped them out into the long grass. There they stood like little statues, their feathers ruffled and necks stretched, eyes bulging. Turkeys are always the same when you move them. It was a scream to watch. Their growth has slowed up now they are outside but they are already halfway grown.

One other death was an accident. We had determined to catch the two teenage geese down on the dam, bring them into one of the pens to eat the grass and then eat them when they were fully grown. However, we had to pursue the flock for quite some distance in order to round them up & then we couldn’t tell them apart! I nearly sat on one only to find it had a tag on its wing and was therefore an oldie. We did catch one and I gave it to one of our German WWOOFers, Sabine, to hold while we tried to round up the second. However, when we gave up and went back to the garage it seemed the poor goose had just died in her arms! Rather than waste it I skinned & gutted it straightaway. It had a huge distended stomach full of soaked grain and I think the shock and the full belly had been too much for its heart.

I’ve decided to leave well alone now. Next year once the birds start sitting I’ll take a load of the eggs & put them in the incubator. Trouble is the nests are quite vulnerable out in the open, despite them nesting deep in the sedge. Indeed I found a goose egg just today on the drive near the garage! As soon as I picked it up Rosie went all peculiar so I know she was the culprit. She’s stolen eggs before from the garage after the girls have collected them from the hen & turkey runs. The geese don’t stand a chance if Rosie goes down there when we’re not around & terrorises them.

We collected half a dozen peacock eggs and put them in the incubator. Quite quickly the bathroom where the incubator was kept, began to smell. I sniffed and then candled the eggs. Two were rotten – or on the way to becoming rotten – whilst the other 4 were infertile. I think perhaps our male is still too young. He displays regularly but only has a half-length tail. When the female started nesting, he got quite aggressive towards the two poor guinea-fowl, who chittered horrendously in retaliation. Luckily there is peace again in the pen now.

The final death was intentional if not planned. Brian the Boar, of whom we’d all become very fond, developed a wanderlust and began walking through his fence – despite it being at 6,500V with chicken wire on the outside dug into the ground. He learnt that if he didn’t touch the electric fence with his snout, he could put his nose under the bottom wire, lever up the chicken wire and then shoot underneath without getting too bad a shock. The first time he got out, it seems he was rummaging in his concrete feeder looking for food and somehow broke off the immensely sturdy lid on the ‘fill’ side. The heavy lid fell on the fence and crushed it & I think he just squeezed out through the feeder.

The last time, we managed to get him back in with the girls, thinking that perhaps the interest of having female company would be sufficient encouragement for him to stay. The girls ran him around a bit, even though he was so much larger than when I first collected him. Then he just decided he was off again and went straight out through a multi-strand 8,000V fence. We’d already fetched him back from over 400m away, this time it was approaching twilight and Bronte and I looked at one another and knew we'd run out of options.

Bronte did the deed and we left him to drain where he fell having turned him nose down on the slope. The following day I had to butcher him. Bronte hung him from the tractor shed using the front bucket on the tractor – that certainly made things easier. He must have weighed 100+ kgs. Luckily it had been cold overnight and it was a cool morning. It took me most of the morning to skin, gut and reduce Brian to 9 big roasts. We’ve just finished the first of those and I’m pleased to say it was absolutely delicious. No trace of boar taint. So we’ll probably have one of his big hams on Christmas Day. I’ve decided if we get another boar, it’s going to be a really big one that will sort those girls out straightaway!

Still not sure what had got into Brian’s head. He had heaps of good food, a cosy hut filled with hay and the two sows right alongside him for company. His paddock was quite wet after the heavy rain but there were still dry areas and long grass and weeds in which he could dig. We just seem to pick boys with an urge to roam.

I took the WWOOFers recently to get a load of potatoes to cook for the pigs and just before Brian’s demise, we cooked a huge batch. The weather turned warm and so that the food would stay relatively fresh I had the bright idea of taking all the buckets down to the creek. I lodged them as best I could along the bank, almost submerged in the water. Overnight, there was 14mm of rain and 3 of the buckets disappeared! Despite Bronte saying I’d never see them again, that they’d be out to sea by now, I despatched the girls and Luke down the creek to try and find them. From the house we heard an awful lot of shrieking and wondered what was going on. When they returned soaking wet, it turned out they’d found the buckets really quickly, lodged against a fallen tree & had spent the rest of the time jumping in a pool and splashing one another. Much to my amazement the German girls had worn ‘waterproof’ trousers although the water had been so deep it had run straight into their wellies (gumboots)! Since then we’ve looped rope through the bucket handles and secured them to the bank and the makeshift ‘fridge’ works well.

Some WWOOF pics:

Much of our time these days is taken up mowing and weeding. I just can’t get the WWOOFers to do a decent job of weeding. Often they walk right past the weeds and they only half-heartedly chop the ones they do see. The language issue hasn’t helped. I tried on several occasions to get them to chop a load of thistles under a large pine tree on our new land – and they still haven’t done it properly. I think we shall just have to get on and do it ourselves. Bronte and Luke took the current WWOOFs up the goat hill today to get mostly fireweed and foxgloves. I also sent the WWOOFs onto our neighbour’s land last week to chop all foxgloves within about 20m of the boundary. I sought permission first of course – after Bronte had laid into them the day before about their weed problem. There are two fit 20-somethings living there and it wouldn’t take them more than a week to clear their whole block. Unfortunately they are exactly upwind from us.

I took Luke up the road and we cleared all the weeds growing on the verges above our new land and one evening I tackled a huge batch of foxgloves and thistles that was growing on an old rock pile. It was almost dark before I staggered back. Luke and I have also ventured into the wilderness at the bottom of our plot to have a go at the new fireweed that’s coming back this year. I spent weeks last summer crawling around under wild roses, brambles and other spiky bushes, clearing out everything I could find. As there are no old fireweed bushes still standing, the new growth must be from seeds that have been in the ground a couple of years. I’m surprised actually, at how good a job we did last year. There are very few thistles coming up in the new paddocks that we chopped last summer. Even the docks and fireweed are significantly reduced.

Bronte’s also tackling patches of bracken that are encroaching onto his paddocks. He’s off out this evening, re-chipping the new growth down on the edge of the hay paddocks. If you continually keep at the bracken it does eventually run out of energy and give up. For the Californian thistles which come up in great swathes, the only answer is continual mowing, regular spraying or intensive goat foraging. The goats have done a good job at the top of our hill. Not only has the huge Californian outbreak up there been decimated, they’ve also trampled the bracken and other brush, such that it’s opened up the whole area.

The grass has continued to grow apace and feels somewhat like the Forth Road Bridge at present. I no sooner finish mowing all the bits that Bronte can’t do with the ride-on, than I need to start at the beginning again. I can feel another bout of mowing coming on tomorrow morning. I’ve also brush-cut all the long grass and weeds coming up around the banks of the ‘veggie’ patch and sprayed all that was coming up inside it. I got the girls to rake up what I’d brush-cut and spread it on top as mulch. Looks so much neater now. My exposed fence-lines have all gone pleasingly brown after I sprayed them some weeks ago, as has the grass and weeds coming up in the gravel around the sheds and on the drive.

I’ve managed to do a bit more work on my new goat paddock. I’m taking a new approach this time around, doing all the bracing and fitting insulators etc as I go along. I’ve not progressed far over the past week as I’ve reached the corner where I need to build a feeding yard. It’s half-way through now. I’ve also been putting up giant tree-protectors around the 6 of Bronte’s trees that will be inside the boundary of the new fence. It’s difficult to get the WWOOFs to help with much of this - it would take so much time to show them what was required, plus much of the tie-wiring needs a lot of hand and wrist strength. I’m using 3.5mm tie-wire now, whereas I could only really manage the 2.5mm when I started a few years’ back. Bronte’s cross, because the goats have breached one of the tree-protectors in the last paddock I built and have stripped the bark off one of his pine trees – such that he’s sure it will die.

Tree protectors in progress

Because it’s continued to stay cool, I’ve still had to collect firewood from time to time. We’ve already burnt quite a lot of the green wood that Luke and I collected from our neighbours. Since then, I’ve made a couple of trips to a big dead wattle that fell on our land in the strong winds of early Spring. Unfortunately it’s fell across a deep ditch so wading around in the mud is no fun – neither is sliding around on the huge cow poos at every step. The first time I took the chainsaw, but the blinking thing kept cutting out on me and I got fed up with having to re-start it every minute. Last time, I just went with a WWOOFer and the bow-saw and we managed to bring home a huge ute load. Of course, I get the blame for anything that goes wrong with the chainsaw even though Bronte’s already bent the bar so that it goes through everything sideways.

Other excitements (!) on the farm have been the presence of a fair-sized tiger snake in one of the nest boxes. Celia, a WWOOF from Hong Kong, put her hand in and got the eggs and then noticed something move at the back! I’ve since encouraged them to slide the front away (to let in light) and also to use an ‘egg extractor’ that I made the following day - basically a scoop on the end of a long pole. We have dealt with the snake and I’ve also put down rat bait around all the bird huts to discourage rodents and hence snakes.

I asked the girls to dig up a large rock on one of the tracks I use to take hay to the goats. It’s not easy to see under long grass and sometimes I hit it with an awful bump in the Suzuki. I sent them off with spades and the crowbar, but they were soon back. Firstly, they dug up the wrong rock and then when they started on the real target, they disturbed a nest of jumping jack ants, that seethed out and took vengeance. Two of the girls were bitten on their legs (through thick trousers), one in two places. Luckily neither suffered an allergic reaction – I didn’t tell them that more people die in Tasmania each year from an adverse reaction to jumping jack bites, than from snake bites!

Other than the Huon Show we’ve had relatively few outings. Nami (another Japanese WWOOFer with a great grin) and I took Luke to a schools’ Triathlon over in Bellerive, on the Eastern Shore. We had to take his bike, swimming clothes and towels. It was the most loathsome day you can imagine, very cold, wet, windy and grey. The ‘swimming’ bit was in the sea, but was luckily very short and close to shore. Most of Luke’s grade just hurtled through the surf on foot without bothering to try and swim. They then had to run to where the bikes were stowed, get T-shirt and shoes and socks on and bike for around 2kms. Having helped Luke and his mates to get changed, we then lost them completely as the bike track was out of sight further along the shore. The next we knew they were running past us in the opposite direction. We saw Luke twice but completely failed to find him at the finishing line. We finally caught up with him shivering with cold and almost blue. Together with one of his mates, we hustled them to their kit-bags and got them rubbed dry and rugged up in warm clothes. It was still early in the day but I asked the teachers if I could take Luke home, I wasn’t sure he’d last the rest of the day in that awful weather! I think it was terribly brave of him and I was very proud that he’d just got on with it without complaining.

The other major outing was almost equally grim! We had two German girls staying with us for just over a week, with Nami, the Japanese girl. On the last day, I said I’d take them somewhere nice and gave them some options. We decided on the Pelverata Falls walk, since it’s fairly close and is a decent walk. Almost as soon as we got in the car it started raining quite heavily. I’d let Luke stay at home that afternoon so he could come with us, so we were 5 in all. Several times I said something like ‘it’s not too late to change your mind’ – really rather hoping that they would! Luke was quite adamant that he was still going regardless of the weather. The Pelverata Falls walk is a 2-hour round trip if you’re fit, and it rained for the entire time. It didn’t really matter that we were wearing raincoats and gumboots, because after a time we were all saturated. We had to push through wet bushes and grasses which soaked our trousers and ran into our wellies, the water poured from the trees above in the wind and ran down our necks. We were just about OK when we kept moving, but when we stopped to look at the waterfall (which was truly impressive) we were concerned re developing hypothermia! I shared out my stash of nuts and sultanas and we set off back.

Luke and I were at the front and as we got colder I suggested we sped up. We almost jogged most of the way back and even then could barely keep warm. Luckily we had some warm dry clothes in the car, but I had to put mine on over a soaking T-shirt which didn’t really do the trick. All the way home we had the heater on full blast and were fighting to de-fog the windows. I’ve never been so pleased to get home and change and finally warm up. Can’t believe Luke managed it so readily. He’s one tough kid. Funnily enough we were meant to be going to a twilight Little Athletics meet afterwards, but it was no surprise when that was cancelled. In fact so many meets have been cancelled that we are running way behind.

I’m afraid I haven’t found the time and motivation to write my little anti-biomass generator spiel to the local paper, but I haven’t forgotten and hope to do it sometime soon. I’m continually stumbling on stories that make me cross and am often thinking of writing to the paper. Unfortunately I almost never get round to it. The latest is the nonsense about installing light rail in Hobart and a cable-car up Mount Wellington. Just a modicum of common-sense thinking would show that such projects could never be commercially viable in a tin-pot country town like Hobart (sorry, ‘City’).

We get 600,000 tourists a year and even if every one of those paid $25 to go up the mountain in a cable car, it would still be years before one paid off the capital cost. And why install an inflexible mode of transport like light rail in a town of 200,000 people when mini-buses do the job perfectly well? If concerned re their environmental footprint, gradually replace them with electric units that are charged with hydro-power. Whereas a perfectly sensible idea like installing a small cafĂ© with viewing area on top of the Mountain is continually being knocked back by people saying ‘you can’t despoil our Mountain’. Frankly the top is already a mess of old buildings and car parks. A new small building with spectacular views, employing the best architecture, could only add to its appeal.

The other thing that’s riled me recently is the Aussie test cricket team’s aggressive and rude behaviour on-field. Not only did Michael Clarke warn a British batsman to get ready for a ‘f…ing broken arm’ but he was backed up by eminent recently-retired cricketers. I thought it was awful behaviour for someone at the top of the game, who should be setting the highest standards and acting as a role model for Aussie youngsters.

I won’t mention the terrible performance of the British team ..

Luke's gone puzzle-mad at present - these are some examples of 500-piece
ones we've recently completed. We finished one of them in just one day.

Murphy helping with one of the puzzles

Cat under bedcovers